Brexiting the Future of Fashion

Women high heel shoes

Since the announcement of the result of the UK’s referendum about its future with the European Union so far as UK fashion is concerned, there has been no discernible change in the previous pattern of doing business. But the designs of business will change irrespective of what replaces the UK’s existing trade relationship with the EU.

Already there are forecasts of an increase in inflation for fashion and footwear prices. It follows that a supplier which fails to build into its contracts an inflation indexing provision is simply giving its customer an opportunity to make a greater margin on resale!

Correspondingly, UK fashion businesses sourcing clothes, footwear or accessories from overseas which do not include a currency conversion clause in their purchasing contracts are asking for trouble. The immediate fall in GBP on 24 June 2016 has been nowhere reversed.

But on the plus side, buying UK fashion assets – brands or trophy stores – in USD or pretty much any currency (excluding Bank of Toytown) has become a whole lot cheaper.

For those British fashion businesses not falling prey to overseas buyers, uncertainty can be expected to translate itself to an increasing use of pop ups and the taking of concessions in department stores.

And what of legal issues? The UK’s ‘affection’ for lawyers (”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” Henry VI, Part II, act IV, Scene II) is likely to grow. This is because whilst the referendum will not in itself have any immediate implications in legal – terms – it could take years before the UK exits the EU officially – good lawyers who look to try and achieve their clients business objectives will consider what the referendum means.

As such, can it be said that the decision to leave the EU has or will frustrate the purpose of a contract so making it impossible to perform the contract? Possibly. But the English courts have consistently been unimpressed by an argument that a contract is frustrated because it is more expensive to fulfil or more difficult to perform.

But then does the Brexit vote constitute an event of force majeure? Unlikely as it would be necessary either for the contract to expressly state it to be so or for it to be interpreted as falling within a more general force majeure category, such as the act or decision of a government body. However, this has still to be tested in the English courts.

Will English choice of law and English court jurisdiction clauses continue to be upheld in the English courts given that these are currently governed by EU regimes? For the time being – yes. But in the future?

Equally, how will the intellectual property rights of fashion brands fare? The EU trade mark and the EU design, both pan European rights will almost certainly cease to cover the UK and this will result in a need to secure separate rights in the UK. The conversion of existing EU IP rights to national UK rights is likely but on what basis this will be implemented and whether it will involve re-examination of the rights is unclear.

The enforcement of IP rights may also throw up some interesting issues. What happens to a pan European injunction granted in favour of a non-UK company pre-Brexit? Does it automatically cover the UK post-Brexit or will it need to be registered in the UK to continue in place? This has the potential for re-opening a number of hard won disputes by designers and fashion brands alike.

Finally, what about grey imports? The UK could become a haven for parallel imports and worse if any transitional provisions on the protection of EU trade marks leave gaps in protection, the rights could be left unprotected if the fashion brand does not already have a UK trade mark in place.

A few years ago a successful telecoms company – Orange – claimed, “The future’s bright. The future’s Orange.” Today the future is grey as we try and see through an interesting period in the history of the UK.

Credit: Stephen Sidkin and Simon Bennett | Guest Post

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The Fashion Law Practice appreciates this guest post from Fox Williams LLP (London, UK).

Stephen Sidkin is a commercial law partner and Simon Bennett an intellectual property law partner at Fox Williams. (www.foxwilliams.com; www.fashionlaw.co.uk) | © Fox Williams LLP 2016


SEC Adopts New Crowdfunding Rules

Websites (homepages) of five leading crowdfunding platforms in the world - Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, RocketHub, Crowdfunder and GoFundMe on a computer screen.

Over the past few years, crowdfunding websites have become an increasingly significant source of consumer feedback and funding for fashion companies as fashion-specific sites such as Betabrand and general sites such as Kickstarter have allowed designers to prescreen new designs and raise funding from interested users. In some cases, supporters of a company will be asked to provide contributions for which the contributors will generally receive some form of gift or other recognition. In other cases, supporters will be asked to preorder a particular item, but only if the funding goal is met will the item go into production.

However, until recently restrictions under the federal and state securities laws have prevented fashion and other companies from raising funds in securities offerings on the internet unless the offerings were registered with the securities authorities or were limited to institutional or wealthy individual investors.

In October 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted final rules that will permit ordinary investors to participate in internet-based crowdfunded securities offerings.

The final rules, which will be effective commencing in May 2016, will:

  • Permit a non-public U.S. company (other than an investment company or a shell company) to raise a maximum aggregate amount of $1 million through crowdfunding offerings – in a 12-month period;
  • Require that the offering be conducted through a registered broker dealer or funding portal;
  • Permit individual investors, over a 12-month period, to invest in the aggregate across all crowdfunding offerings up to:
    • The greater of $2,000 or 5% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth – if either their annual income or net worth is less than $100,000; or
    • 10% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth – if both their annual income and net worth are equal to or more than $100,000.
    • During the 12-month period, the aggregate amount of securities sold to a particular investor through all crowdfunding offerings may not exceed $100,000.

Companies that rely on the crowdfunding rules to conduct a crowdfunding offering will be required to file certain information with the SEC and provide this information to investors and the intermediary facilitating the offering, including among other things:

  • A description of the business and the use of proceeds from the offering;
  • The price to the public of the securities or the method for determining the price, the target offering amount, the deadline to reach the target offering amount, and whether the company will accept investments in excess of the target offering amount;
  • A discussion of the company’s financial condition;
  • Financial statements of the company that, depending on the amount offered and sold during a 12-month period, are accompanied by information from the company’s tax returns, reviewed by an independent public accountant, or audited by an independent auditor. A company offering more than $500,000 but not more than $1 million of securities relying on these rules for the first time would be permitted to provide reviewed rather than audited financial statements, unless financial statements of the company are available that have been audited by an independent auditor;
  • Information about officers and directors as well as owners of 20 percent or more of the company; and
  • Certain related-party transactions.

In addition, companies relying on the crowdfunding exemption will be required to file an annual report with the SEC and provide it to investors that contain information similar to that in the initial disclosure statement.

Each issuer will need to evaluate whether the initial and ongoing costs of a crowdfunding offering make this an attractive capital raising method in light of the amount to be raised and other available funding alternatives. For some issuers a crowdfunding offering will be a useful method to raise funds and to begin to establish a committed shareholder base with the goal of eventually becoming a full public company.

Credit:  R. Brian Brodrick

Brian is a partner in Phillips Nizer’s Corporate Law and Securities & Private Placement Practices.


The Promises of Big Event Promotions

HenryPoole2015-ShopWithSignage

In the service of consumer awareness, I have helped clients with event promotions ranging from setting up rub-down booths for aching feet at half marathons to participating in the closing off of Times Square for New Year’s Eve and the engagement of major talent to entertain the revelers. I was particularly amused, however, when Henry Poole & Co, the tailor shop that founded London’s Savile Row (back in 1846), alerted me to the closure of the Row for its one-day transformation into a pasture eighty meters long, populated by sixty squishy sheep and twenty-five anything-but-squishy male models, each of the latter in a bespoke outfit by one of the twenty-five participating tailors. For Savile Row Sheep Day (yes, big promotions need big names) on October 5 of this year, Henry Poole showed, on one of those big men, a made-for-the occasion three-piece suit made of a blue-gray 11-12 ounce Prince of Wales wool and cashmere blend. The sheep came as they were.

HenryPoole2015-GrazingSheepThat is not the first time Savile Row has been disrupted for a special promotional event. As documented in the film Let It Be, on January 30, 1969, The Beatles gave their last public performance from the headquarters of their company at 3 Savile Row, creating a commotion that brought in the police and became part of the history of popular music.

Getting the famously phlegmatic London bobbies stirred up for the benefit of posterity was likely integral to the thinking behind The Beatles’ rooftop concert, but when fashion companies do big promotions—whether to let Shaun the Sheep and friends graze on a city street or to rent historic venues for fashion shows—they do not want legal troubles. Along with all the usual contractual complexities with vendors, models, transportation providers, venues and more, for big promotions, there typically are municipal permits, special insurance problems (Just what is the premium for coverage against damage by rampaging ruminants?), and often import/export and duty considerations, to name only a few of the additional legal concerns.

Big events are often borne of creativity at marketing and public relations companies and departments; but it is a good idea to bring in the lawyers well before a fashion company commits to move forward with such an event. Marketers are both inventive and parental, quickly falling in love with their creations, with the result that legal considerations can be put off to the last minute. That is why promotional lawyers are used to providing services in a rush. Under those conditions, even their best efforts may not be enough to prevent an exciting opportunity from becoming an expensive mistake due to missed deadlines for permits, hurried and failed attempts at gaining necessary consents and much more (and much worse). The simple rule of thumb is this: when you think big in a promotion, think legal. Before the big idea is a go, go to the lawyers and ask if it is possible and what it likely will cost to make it happen.

HenryPoole2015-Models

As for those sheep on Savile Row: someone did it all just right that day in October. The promotion went off as planned, the cops stayed away, everyone had a good time, and Henry Poole and the rest of the Row’s tailors got their message across, which was, “Gentlemen: wear wool and look smart.” We have to assume that, somewhere in London that night, an advertising and promotions lawyer slept soundly. He or she certainly deserved to.

Credit: Alan Behr

Photo Credit:  Henry Poole & Co


Protecting the Confidentiality of Your Key Suppliers

trade secrets label

A case that was decided last year by the New York Supreme Court, Kings County, illustrates the importance of protecting the confidentiality of proprietary supplier and manufacturing sources.
In this case, a wholesale distributor of off-price apparel engaged an employee to assist the distributor in sourcing merchandise from overseas manufacturers. The distributor and employee made a number of trips to a South American country where the distributor sourced merchandise through a business broker who provided introductions to local apparel factories.

After a few years, the employee left the distributor to work for a competitor that began to place orders for merchandise with these same factories through the same broker.

The distributor subsequently brought an action against the employee and the competitor for unfair competition claiming that the identity of the broker and associated factories constituted trade secrets, which the employee misappropriated for his own and the competitor’s benefit.

Under New York law, a former employee may generally solicit a business’s customers, so long as the employee is not bound by a non-compete agreement, does not solicit the customers while still employed by the business and does not rely on customer information that was wrongfully obtained or which constitutes a trade secret. The courts have applied a similar standard when evaluating whether the identity of a company’s suppliers may be treated as a trade secret, often also considering whether the company had exclusive arrangements with those suppliers.

In determining whether information is a trade secret, New York courts frequently apply a six factor analysis:

  1. the extent to which the information is known outside of the company;
  2. the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in the business;
  3. the extent of measures taken by the company to guard the secrecy of the information;
  4. the value of the information to the company and its competitors;
  5. the amount of effort or money expended by the company in developing the information; and
  6. the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others.

The court ultimately decided the action in favor of the employee and competitor, determining that the identity of the broker and the associated factories were not trade secrets. The distributor did not establish that the broker or the factories had promised to or did, in fact, sell exclusively to the distributor and did not show that the identities of the broker and the associated factories were confidential. The distributor also failed to provide evidence that it had undertaken great effort in discovering the factories, in establishing a business relationship with the broker or in keeping the identities of the parties secret.

The lesson here is that businesses that depend on key suppliers should not rely on trade secret protection alone to protect these relationships. Instead, they should take steps to identify as proprietary that information which they wish to protect and should enter into appropriately tailored non-compete and non-solicitation agreements with their employees that are designed to prevent them from disclosing or otherwise taking unfair advantage of such information of which they become aware during the course of their employment.

Credit: R. Brian Brodrick

Brian is a partner in Phillips Nizer’s Corporate Law and Securities & Private Placement Practices.


When The CEO Must Go

American Apparel fashion store on April 23, 2013 in Manchester, UK. American Apparel was founded in 1989.

The bankruptcy and attempted reorganization of American Apparel demonstrate not just that fashion is a risky business but also that, in bad times as well as good, it brings into play some unique considerations. First among those is that fashion businesses tend to arise from the unique vision of one or a very few individuals. That is true as well for tech startups, but except for a few software geniuses (such as Mark Zuckerberg), entrepreneurial masters (such as Bill Gates) and brilliant marketers (such as Steve Jobs), once a tech business gets going, skilled replacements are relatively easy to find.

That is not the case when the founder and guiding light of a fashion business is also its chief designer. As even well-established brands have demonstrated, bringing in a new designer who understands a brand’s signature looks and who can add his or her own vision while somehow keeping all that fresh (and keeping loyal customers purchasing) is not an easy feat.

The situation at American Apparel was ironically even more complicated because much of the trouble started when its founder, Dov Charney, was forcibly removed. More of a businessman than the creator of a signature style (American Apparel was all about ever-cool basics made in the USA), he dominated the company. He made a failed effort to return; and while everyone involved focused attention on that, the business lost its vision and too many of its customers, and then slid into receivership. That might have happened anyway, but the disruptions caused by the long-running Charney episode may well have been the tipping point.

It all serves as a reminder that, in fashion, getting a clear and effective legal structure into place as early as possible, with understandable methods and procedures for personnel transitions and successions, could potentially be a business-saver. True, Ralph Lauren, that grand warrior for American gentlemanly style, simply and graciously stepped aside as CEO of his company, letting the business keep running, apparently seamlessly, from there. But legal planning is not about expecting the best; it is, unfortunately, about hoping for the best while planning for the worst. And when it comes to fashion and the people in fashion, that is nearly always a prudent way to go.

Credit:  Alan Behr


Designers Defending Their Names

FashionShow-Catwalk-ModelsPose

If you are interested enough in fashion to be visiting this page, I cannot tell you anything new about Roy Halston Frowick, better known as Halston. He was unique in many ways, starting with the fact that he launched his career with a single piece: the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as president, in 1961. (The fact that Mrs. Kennedy was also wore a Halston pillbox while sitting in the car next to the president as he was assassinated, in Dallas, led to the style going out of fashion in the blink of an eye.) By 1983, Halston’s company, Halston Limited, was owned by Norton Simon, Inc. Unless Halston had agreed to all that at some point, the likely explanation was that there had been no form of what lawyers call a non-assignment clause in place in the relationship that Halston, the man, had set up with the owners of Halston, the brand. In any event, within about one year, Halston was no longer designing for Halston Limited. He died in 1990, a man without his own name in design. Once that disassociation occurred, Halston, the brand, which still exists, has a life of its own, and it has since changed hands seven times more.

Catherine Malandrino recently filed a lawsuit against Elie Tahari and others, claiming she was wrongfully deprived of rights under a deal by which she sold her brand (and, for all intents and purposes, her professional name) to a company controlled in part by Tahari, which employed her as its creative director. Malandrino had only minority representation on her new employer’s management committee. She alleges that her co-venturers and others routed around her in subsequent dealings, damaging the brand and failing to compensate her as agreed. Although the complaint is passionately composed, it does not directly address what appears to be the underlying issue: Malandrino and her representatives did not provide, in the agreements she signed, the kind of contractual protections that could have reduced or eliminated many of the alleged wrongs and that would have given her final say as to what was and was not a Catherine Malandrino creation.

On a happier note there is the long, circular tale of Joseph Abboud. His eponymous menswear line debuted in 1987. His name was registered as part of trademarks that he licensed to a joint venture in which he took an interest through a corporation he owned. He then sold off his equity interest and worked as a consultant to the company that now exclusively owned his name in the fashion business—until creative differences caused an abrupt. Abboud tried to start a new brand called “jaz,” making it known in the trade that he was the designer. In the lawsuit filed by the company that owned the Joseph Abboud trademarks, the court ruled, “Abboud is permanently enjoined and restricted from using her personal name to sell, market, or otherwise promote, goods, products, and services to the consuming public.” In all, a humiliating result for one of my favorite menswear designers. Several sales of branding rights and changes in price point later, man and brand were effectively reunited; in 2014, Abboud became chief creative director at Men’s Wearhouse, which is the current owner of the Joseph Abboud brand and trademarks.

And we must not forget that there are many success stories. Karl Lagerfeld is still a walking brand, regardless of whatever house for which he has already has served or may yet serve as designer. Ralph Lauren’s name is owned by his company, which is public and so owned by many shareholders—but he has set up everything quite nicely and is surely not losing sleep worrying about whether he will still be designing under his own name.

The message: every good designer is either a good business person or should work in close company with someone else who is just that—and every good business person watching over a designer’s name should have a lawyer nearby who knows what to do to keep the designer and his name permanently in each other’s company.

Next: we will show a bit of how that works.

Credit:  Alan Behr

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